What movie was that...?

27 February 2010

Zombieland

directed by Ruben Fleischer

Zombie fans will enjoy Ruben Fleischer’s super entertaining comedy about life in a post infected Land of Liberty, but purists will hate the fast moving, emoting brain eaters. Don’t be so uptight! Woody Harrelson is golden as Tallahassee, a half bonkers, half nutbag survivor who begrudgingly teams up with by the book Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg, stealing all of Michael Cera’s moves. For shame!) to whoop a little zombie ass and hunt down some Twinkies. Columbus and Tallahassee run into a bit of trouble when scamming sisters (Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin) jack their ride and bear west, heading for an amusement park that rumor has it is free of the infected. It’s 28 Days Later meets Shaun of the Dead in all the goofiest ways, and those of you looking for empirical data to support my “Zombieland is awesome” conclusion need to look no further than the truly fantastic cameo that marks the film’s high point. I refuse to give it away, but I want to so badly!
Rule #32- Enjoy the little things.
Rule #33- Well conceived zombie comedies are excellent.

26 February 2010

Superbad

directed by Greg Mottola

Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg, stoner geniuses who brought us Pineapple Express, take the 24 hour plot structure and twist it into one of the funniest films in years, Superbad. From the amazingly hilarious opening credits (nice dance moves) to the neat package of an ending (which I can forgive), Superbad is a crass, vulgar, foul mouthed and excellent addition to the comedy genre, a timeless tale of teenage angst and the quest for booze and nookie. Michael Cera and Jonah Hill play two of the said questers, accompanied by a brilliant Christopher Mintz-Plasse, out to score big by supplying an entire party with booze and, hopefully, winning the hearts of the objects of their affection. Seth Rogan originally intended to play the role of Seth (played by Jonah Hill), but he looked a bit old (even though he’s always looked 30 years old, even in Freaks and Geeks). Just as well, because Jonah Hill is a cussing genius (a little Fantastic Mr. Fox lingo for that ass!), and Michael Cera stammers his away into our hearts as Evan (oh, I get it. Seth and Evan, like the writers. Subtle.) , not to mention the amazing talent found in Mintz-Plasse, channeling Anthony Michael Hall circa Sixteen Candles like nobody’s business. It’s old school turned proto-new school, the bridge between American Pie and Pineapple Express. And I’ve said it before, Kevin Corrigan just makes everything better!

25 February 2010

Good Will Hunting

directed by Gus Van Sant

At the risk of typecasting myself as a lover of all things indie and foreign, I have to highlight some excellent examples of indie kids making it big, scrappers like John Carpenter, who struck his Texas Tea with Halloween, or Q.T., who makes indie mainstream by virtue of his amazing talent and awesomeness. Gus Van Sant is a different breed, opting for minimal budgets and, in many cases, unknown actors to achieve his visions, be it a day in the life of various high schoolers in Elephant (riveting) or the man versus the elements struggle for survival of Gerry (mesmerizing). Then there was Paranoid Park and Last Days, but Van Sant knows how to put on a show as well. Take Milk, for example, starring a (I hate to say it, since he seems like such a jerk in real life) stellar Sean Penn and an even stellarer Josh Brolin (I heart you so much, Mr. B). Van Sant created a visceral and moving film about the power of sincere will and strength with all the gusto of a big budget biopic, minus the schmaltz. Another Van Sant classic involves a collaboration with some punks from Hollywood who fancied themselves writers. Turns out, they were right to think so. I’m talking about Matt Damon and Ben Affleck (always better behind the camera than in front of it, Mr. A), who play two blue collar buddies from South Boston who exorcise their anger at an unfair world by fighting and drinking. Oh yeah, Will (Damon, in a career making performance) also likes to solve infinitely complex math problems and never admit it. When a playground brawl ends in Will possibly having to serve time, an MIT professor bails him out on one condition: that he see a therapist and that he work with him on really hard math (okay, so it was two conditions. I never said I was the math wiz, jeez!). Will finds a soul mate of sorts in Sean, played to perfection by Robin Williams, his shrink and opener of various existential windows. Whether any other actors were ever considered for Affleck’s and Damon’s respective roles, I do not know, but if so, the duo achieved a Stallone-like feat in embodying each character so fully that to imagine anyone else in those roles would seem utterly ridiculous. And hats off (I know I have mentioned this before, but I can’t help but gush) to Casey Affleck for nailing the little brother character or Morgan, and Cole Hauser, you really fleshed out the most minimal of peripheral characters. Van Sant gives the film the tragically beautiful finishing touch it needed by asking Elliot Smith to compose original songs for the film, and Smith delivered in every way. We miss you, Mr. Smith. Wish you were here. As a whole, the film is perfectly crafted, amazingly nuanced and richly detailed on every level. When you can analyze even the most minor of characters (Will’s ex-boss at MIT, the barman who knows about polio), it is a sure sign of a finely made film.

The White Ribbon

directed by Michael Haneke

Michael Haneke’s uncomfortably quiet and disturbing film of a town beleaguered by a series of bizarre and cruel crimes is fascinating and terrible (and I mean that in a good way). Told as a reflective story by the town’s teacher, obviously many years later, the recounting of tragic and sinister happenings seem to unfold as by a dark force intent on crumbling the very existence of the isolated community. Haneke’s lens finds the despair and hypocrisy of such a place etched on the young faces of the town’s children, children who may be more involved than they seem. Other critics have hailed this as a classic, and while it is truly a much needed break from the crap that Hollywood has to offer, it is no A Serious Man, or The Hurt Locker, or even the visually stunning A Single Man. The White Ribbon is a haunting take on the judgments of man upon man, a glimpse of the mysterious horrors that befall us. For those of you looking for a little more combustion in your films need to see both versions of Haneke’s Funny Games (the German and American remake). Both the original German version and the English version have their strong points, and while most film snobs will hail the original as the best, I say it’s too close to call.  

24 February 2010

Predator

directed by John McTiernan

Action pro John McTiernan crafts an over the top sci-fi action fest with Predator, starring a perpetually sweaty (or are they just baby oiled up?) Arnold and Carl Weathers as commandos charged with taking a team into the jungle to rescue a diplomat who went off course. Eff the “plot” that writers John and James Thomas exploit to get these macho soldiers into the jungle, what really matters is the stealthy alien they find hunting them down there. The predator in question takes ninja badassness to the next level, stalking Arnold and his crew like a killing machine. Armed with a cloaking device and a general bad attitude, this E.T. has it made in the shade until a mud caked Austrian- I mean American soldier (superb accent, Mr. S. You sound like you were born here) beats him at his own game, fucking folks up. From a mini-gun toting Jesse Ventura, to a whispery, dry shaving Bill Duke, Predator is a classic example of ultra-outrageous, in no way realistic, heyday action flicks that cashed in on the coked up bloodlust of the 80s yuppie crowd and crotch rock tough guys, until McTiernan dropped the hammer of Die Hard on the world, forever changing the face of action. We have seen many imitators, but only one can be as fun as Predator.

My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done

directed by Werner Herzog

What do you get when you throw mad genius David Lynch and madder genius Werner Herzog into a cup with a demented Michael Shannon? You get a nutso yahtzee of cinematic absurdity fit for the ages. Though directed by Herzog, the film looks very much like a David Lynch (executive producer on this endeavor) meets Aguirre type of oddity, especially in the Peruvian jungle revelatory sequences. Michael Shannon seems to channel the ghost of crazed Herzog doppelganger Klaus Kinski to play Brad, a man who, after a seemingly normal cup of coffee with his neighbors, commits matricide and then holes up in his house to negotiate his surrender. Through flashbacks and stories, the film seeks to interpret just how things got to that point for Brad. Michael Shannon was skunked for his miraculous turn in Revolutionary Road, and he will more than likely receive no credit for this spectacular performance, which is nothing short of tragic. Chloe Sevigny delivers another wonderfully understated performance similar to her great role in David Fincher’s Zodiac. And holy smokes is Grace Zabriskie (you know, Dottie from Armageddon?) just the bee’s knees as Brad’s mother and (possibly just in his mind) the source of his pain. Is the film a comedy? Absolutely not, but it sure is funny at times, and simultaneously uncomfortable. What resonates is the dark, morbid fascination that Herzog and Lynch have with mankind, the masochistic urge to pick at the scab to see the wound beneath. Lynch does it with stream of consciousness absurdity, and Herzog does it with imagery (the final shot of Even Dwarves Started Small is still one of the freakiest things I have ever seen), but both deliver their philosophies to us in curious packages. In My Son, My Son, the Lynch/Herzog/Shannon trifecta of strange is complete, forged obdurate by its bold and bizarre look into the soul, giving us an offbeat filmic treasure that Hollywood wouldn’t dare cook up. 

19 February 2010

Valentine's Day

inflicted upon us by Garry Marshall

Garry Marshall may think he’s crafted a romantic, feel good film, but this is also a man who thinks you need two Rs to spell Gary. This year, Marshall saw fit to direct and, worse, actually release the tangled, heartless mess of a film that we know as Valentine’s Day. Jump back, Dolemite, there’s a new sploitation in town, and as Pete Travers so aptly noticed, it bears the initials VD. It seemed like thousands of stars lined up to put forth zero effort in this two hour crapfest, paycheck hungry stars like Julia Roberts (utterly wasted), Bradley Cooper (flat and useless), Patrick Dempsey (stupid and useless), Topher Grace (useless, stupid  and lame) and Anne Hathaway (annoying and unbelievable and useless)- in fact, let’s chalk up everything in this film up as useless and awful except for a genuine and radiant Jennifer Garner and a surprisingly authentic Ashton Kutcher. Bravo for actually being kind of good and having a bit of natural, non steamy, realistic chemistry, you two. It doesn’t bode well for you when the high point of your entire film involves Michael Kelso, Mr. Marshall. Valentine’s Day was a Valametine’s Dud. Totally crrappy.
Note: Don’t even get me started on the Taylors… Young love has never been more unbearable.

18 February 2010

Four Rooms

directed by Alexandre Rockwell, Allison Anders, Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino

Four hotel rooms, four outrageous stories, and only one bellhop to go around. Tim Roth is hilarious as Ted, left to work the New Year’s Eve shift at the Mon Signor Hotel, but little does he know what a New Year’s Eve it will be. The film, broken into four stories (one for each room, get it?) also boasts four directors, each one penning their script and shooting the action. Alexandre Rockwell and Allison Anders deliver entertaining segments, one about a domestic quarrel and a coven of witches, respectively. Robert Rodriguez spins a wacky yet somehow cool story of a couple of badass kids, but it’s Q.T. who brings home the bacon with his penthouse tale about a sinister bet, aptly titled The Man from Hollywood. Tarantino goes Hitchcock in his execution, editing his already long takes, Rope style, into an almost seamless extended sequence, right up until the actual meat of the story (I won’t give it away), an impressive and novel feat from someone already so partial to long takes (you should have copied his notes, De Palma, when you shot the opening sequence of Snake Eyes). Check out Roald Dahl’s short story, The Man from the South, for the source of Tarantino’s inspiration, not to mention an even darker display of the depravity of human addiction. Too many cooks in the kitchen, maybe, but with so many stellar moments in one film, who cares about all that?

17 February 2010

The Burbs

directed by Joe Dante

I hate cul de sacs. There’s only one way out and the people are all weird. Well, they may be weird, but they’ve never been more hilarious than the nutjobs in Joe Dante’s The Burbs. Tom Hanks is Ray, living the lame life in suburban America, until he sees his neighbors doing something fishy in their yard. With the help of goofball Art (an awesome Rick Ducommon), military nut Mark (a crazed and funny Bruce Dern) and slacker teen Ricky Butler (Oh Cory Feldman, how I love thee), the men try to investigate and uncover the ridiculous truth. Things go from outrageous to even more outrageous, but it never stops being funny. This is one of those movies that I am always in the mood for, no matter what. They don’t make em like they used to, and maybe that’s part of the magic of films like these, rainy day classics (I know I described another Dante film, Explorers, as possessing a similar quality) that never get old. 

16 February 2010

Dead Man

directed by Jim Jarmusch

Jim Jarmusch crafts a surreal and horrific vision of the Old West, with Johnny Depp at the helm of the madness in Dead Man. Depp plays city man William Blake, heading out west to take a job as an accountant. After he shoots a man, Blake goes on the run, meeting up with an Indian named Nobody, who acts as Blake’s guide into the realm of surreal existentialism. Marking his journey are a series of encounters with characters as bizarre as they come, including a “family” consisting of Iggy Pop, Billy Bob Thornton and Jared Harris (if that doesn’t give you nightmares, I don’t know what will), a trading post missionary, a bounty hunter named Cole (played with sinister conviction by Lance Henriksen), not to mention two of my absolute favs, Crispin Glover et Robert Mitchum (a.k.a. The Man). As Blake journeys deeper and deeper into the wild, he begins to become more legend, less man. Dead Man is a heady mix of darkness and philosophical depth, a modern allegory that pits civility against the metaphorical elements. Apparently, Neil Young scored the whole movie in one go by playing his guitar as he watched the film projected on a giant screen in an airplane hangar. Wow, Jim Jarmusch, you get some extra crazy points for that stunt. Don’t ever change.

15 February 2010

Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure

directed by Stephen Herek

Strange things are afoot at the circle K in Stephen Herek’s excellent rendition of a time travel film done right. Yep, I said done right. Ted Theodore Logan and Bill S. Preston, Esquire are a righteous duo otherwise known as Wild Stallions, high school screw ups who have one chance to pass their history class and redeem themselves. Not to mention keeping Ted out of military school, which is where he’ll end up if he doesn’t pass. While stewing outside a party store, the pair get freaked out by a phone booth carrying an uber-fresh George Carlin (indie-cred yet, you pop culture snobs?), who hands them a way to travel through the circuits of time to get their chat on with various historic figures. Bill and Ted cross paths with Joan of Arc, Napoleon, Socrates, Genghis Khan, Sigmund Freud and Abe Lincoln, packing them into their little glass box and taking them to their final exam. Do they pass? Of course, and did a sequel materialize as a result of this fantastic time travel comedy, inexplicably featuring the band Primus? Of course! Keanu Reeves puts on his best surfer strut as Ted Logan, and Alex Winter is amazing as Bill Preston (remember when he made Freaked? How awesome was that movie?).  Haters want to hate, pawning this film off as a mindless pothead comedy, but what they fail to address is the excellent script, the excellent acting and the truly excellent overall watchability of one of the greatest time travel films ever made. When it comes in such a surprising package, it makes it that much more enjoyable. 

Hamlet 2

directed by Andrew Fleming

Steve Coogan should have received an Academy Award for his inspired and uproarious portrayal of a failed actor turned drama teacher in Tucson, Arizona, a drama teacher who helms an ill conceived plan to put on a sequel to Hamlet. Yes, I said a sequel to Hamlet, the Hamlet, the one written by Will Shakespeare himself. I’ll let that sink in. Coogan plays Dana Marschz, who finds his drama class has grown from 2 to 30 as a result of school district budget cuts and receives a bolt of creative lightning, penning the sequel himself. The laughs are so wrong they are right, and Coogan’s facial expressions are priceless gems meant to be treasured for all eternity. The humor of Hamlet 2 is an older breed, a silly, irreverent species with which we have lost touch over the years, but writers Pam Brady and Andrew Fleming find a way to make it work like crazy. Catherine Keener is great as Dana’s scathing wife, Elizabeth Shue is adorable as herself, and David Arquette does a hilarious impression of what he thinks “normal” people act like (check his posture at the Mexican restaurant). Regardless of what you think, once the play starts with a Rent style musical sequence bout being “raped in the face” and erupts into a ridiculous medley about a sexy Jesus, a Stars Wars meets Back to the Future style action plot (complete with its own slow-mo sequence) and a chance for Hamlet to find redemption, even the naysayers will get on board. And what excellent wire work!

Solaris

directed by Steven Soderbergh

Steven Soderbergh’s remake of the Russian film sharing the same name is shocking in its quietness and devastating in its impact. George Clooney plays a psychologist charged with venturing out into space to investigate why a group of scientists are holding out in a space station orbiting the planet Solaris, and what he finds is stranger than he can admit.  An amazing meditation on the nature of memory and the tenuous concept of personal identity, Soderbergh’s reimagining is simply marvelous. George Clooney earns his reputation as one of America’s finest actors yet again, and Jeremy Davies is quintessential Jeremy Davies as Snow, oddball operator of the vacated station. Viola Davis is a knockout as Gordon, who is unwilling to divulge info about her "visitor". Artfully realized, competently directed and beautifully composed, Soderbergh’s Solaris is a wonderful example of a remake done right. You should have been taking notes, Mr. Michael Bay and Mr. Rob Zombie.

Joe Versus the Volcano

directed by John Patrick Shanley

Tom Hanks is Joe Banks, the hang dog, rain at a picnic ex fireman turned hypochondriac who heads to the doctor for a test and finds out he has a brain cloud. What is a brain cloud? Watch the film for details, but John Patrick Shanley’s tale of making the most of every day and each man’s quest for significance is as comically endearing as it is entertaining. And Sleepless in Seattle fans slash You’ve Got Mail fans will do well to fix their peepers on the first Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan (playing multiple roles to perfection) film. And Lloyd Bridges’ miniature role is tremendous in every way possible, playing a man who charges Joe with a most unusual task. It has to be seen to believed, and a film this quirky and ambitious should never be neglected. Nobody puts Joe Versus the Volcano in the corner! 

Bambi

directed by David Hand


Not only is Bambi a true classic in every sense of the word, it is also a fantastic depiction of a family unit in the 1940s. I imagine that children and parents would have found a lot of similarities between Bambi’s wilderness upbringing and their own lives during that time in America’s history: a child raised by his mother, father absent as a result serving his duties to his land. Living amid the threat of a foreign force invading the quiet protection of the forest, for the forest creatures it’s the intrusive civilization of Man, but for America, the threat of Nazism. Topical yes, but what endures well beyond WWII is the story of bonds forged and tempered by shared experience, of a collective culture insulated yet vulnerable to outside treacheries and carelessness. Bambi is a powerful story of family ties and loyalties that run deep, and that scene in which Bambi and his mother run from the meadow after hearing the sounds of men is just spectacular.

Way of the Gun

directed by Christopher McQuarrie

Yes, we all know that McQuarrie’s script for The Usual Suspects was great, and that Benicio Del Toro's acting choices in that film were even greater, but what about Way of the Gun? McQuarrie’s Way is miles beyond the usual crime film, it is a testament to the professionally unsympathetic and the career unsavory of the world. Ryan Phillippe and Benicio Del Toro play a pair of scoundrels looking to score by any means necessary, and when the opportunity to hijack a surrogate mother arises, they jump at the chance to score big. When father to be Hale Chidduck (Scott Wilson) gets wind of the kidnapping, he sends bag man Joe Sarno (how good is James Caan?) to get the skinny and fix the situation. Double crosses, hidden agendas and sub schemes threaten to gum up the works, but McQuarrie pulls it off like a champ, creating a story in which the main characters are completely, unapologetically unsympathetic in any way, but you find yourself kind of rooting for them. Nice work, Mr. M, you took noir to the next level.

Dennis the Menace

directed by Nick Castle

John Hughes strikes again by penning this freakin hilarious kid’s movie fit for all ages. Mason Gamble is pitch perfect as Dennis Mitchell, neighborhood troublemaker and the pure personification of mischief whose next door neighbor, Mr. Wilson (Water Matthau is a GD genius!), wishes he was far, far away. As Mr. Wilson dotes on his moon flower and grumbles like an idling lawnmower, Dennis renovates his tree house with the help of his friends, gets into a few sticky situations and singlehandedly thwarts a tramp burglar, played by a greasy and great Christopher Lloyd. Super funny and super quotable, this is a film that my brother and I could (and still can) quote almost in its entirety, and if that’s not a mark of a good film, then I don’t know what is. I was talking about this film the other day when it dawned on me that no sequel ever came of this gem. What gives? This film will always be good enug, will always me impotent to me (sobobed Huffy).

The Adventures of Pete and Pete

created by Will McRobb and Chris Viscardi

Two Petes, one family, a zillion adventures. After seeing Damien Young utterly wasted as a smarmy politician in Edge of Darkness, I got to thinking about one of my favorite childhood shows, not to mention one of the finest television shows of all time, The Adventures of Pete and Pete. With a guest cast list that reads like a who’s who of the cool indie world, including a hilarious Iggy Pop, a genuine Steve Buscemi and a kooky Michael Stipe, The Adventures of Pete and Pete tapped into the agonies and angst of adolescence in way unlike any of its predecessors or successors. Michael C. Maronna is big Pete Wrigley, grappling with love, relationships and self identity, while his little brother, Pete (played to perfection by Danny Tamberelli) wants to make a name for himself, to know the world and tame it. Assisting and impeding them in their endeavors are a group of friends and influences so diverse and wonderful that to list them all in one place would seem totally absurd. To name a few: Pit Stain, Open Face, Paper Cut, Artie (the strongest man in the world), Mister Tastee, Ellen, Nona and a personal favorite, Endless Mike (Rick Gomez, you are amazing). Then there’s bus driver Stu Benedict (a heart breakingly bonkers Damien Young), ever pining for his lost love, Sally Knorp. A show so filled with such magical, surreally unique moments as to rouse the most forlorn pangs of nostalgia in even the hardest of hearts should have proven more than enough for wise old Nickelodeon to release the entire series on DVD (tear). But no, apparently the gods of showbiz felt that would be too costly. Perhaps it's part of the International Adult Conspiracy. Speaking of this sore subject (for me, that is), whatever happened to releasing another Nick treasure, Salute Your Shorts? And Hey Dude, for that matter? Come one, people, join me in hassling Nick until they release these shows. We want our shows, dammit!

Who was your favorite Pete and Pete character?

11 February 2010

Casino Royale

directed by Martin Campbell

If you are like me, you have been tired of the James Bond film series for some time (and are probably right back to tired after Quantum of Solace), dutifully heading to the theater like a lemming, hoping that this time, this time it will be better. I had all but lost hope until I sat down to watch the Bond reboot starring bruiser Daniel Craig. Craig is a smooth operator who don’t take no guff, preferring to pummel his problems into submission. Like the Christopher Nolan classic, Batman Begins, Casino Royale explores a 007 under construction, working out the kinks and picking up baggage that will eventually define his personae. I had my doubts, but Daniel Craig is probably the best Bond ever (cool it, Connery fanboys! I‘m allowed to make assertions like that), finding the vulnerability that previous Bonds (or later, depending on how you look at it) hardly needed to think about, instead burying it deep down beneath a smug and suave veneer. Despite the best efforts of Craig and Mathieu Amalric, and they are fantastic efforts, Marc Forster’s Quantum of Solace was a dud. Like David Fincher and the Benjamin Button disaster, Forster tried to do his version of action, something that seems to be out of his realm of expertise (just like Fincher and love, romance, and sentimentality). Not to mention the fact that the script is terrible to the max, focusing on some ludicrous Bolivian water supply plot (who the hell cares about Bolivia, besides Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid?). An awkward pairing combined with a garbage dump script turn Quantum of Solace into Quantum of Suck, but I still have faith for the next Bond film based solely on Craig’s inspired performance, and it doesn’t diminish the ass kicking power of Casino Royale. Shedding all the gadgetry and hype, Casino focuses on performance, story and a game of cards that serves as a metaphor for Bond’s existence. Sometimes, that’s all you need.

Roger & Me

directed by Michael Moore

Roger & Me, the doc that launched rotund muckraker Michael Moore into the limelight is as topical now as it was 20 years ago. Armed with a camera, a question and a dopey look, Moore seeks to secure a meeting with GM CEO Roger Smith to ask him “why?” Peppering his unsuccessful attempts is a history of the automotive industry in Michigan, the rise and fall of Flint Michigan (Moore’s hometown) and a general overview of Big Three mismanagement and the devastation they have caused. Like all Moore films, and like all documentaries, he has a particular opinion on the whole mess, an opinion that could be considered an overarching theme that spans his body of work. America bad, other places good. Moore criticizes because he loves, and while some may call his tactics shady and outlandish, they would have to concede that they are also effective. It’s a shame Mr. M so closely resembles Peter Griffin (was that deliberate, Mr. Seth MacFarlane?), but I’m glad we have Michael Moores in the world.

10 February 2010

Pulp Fiction

directed by Quentin Tarantino

I told myself I wouldn’t do this, I told myself I wouldn’t review standard “I love film. I’m a hipster doofus” films like Donnie Darko and Boogie Nights, but here I am, reviewing one of the seminal, subversive, genre forming, iconoclastic and important films of my life, Pulp Fiction, like some kind of cardigan wearing, myspace hairdo having fan boy. But it’s just so good! Tarantino is already a titan of the filmic art, a true maverick (I shudder when using that word. Thanks a lot, Palin.) whose films exude such a passion for film unparalleled since the days of Sergio Leone. For Pulp Fiction, Tarantino scrapbooks his favorite gangster, exploitation, comedy and noir films into an ass kicker of a film that virtually created its own subgenre in the way that Romero did with Night of the Living Dead. We all take for granted T’s amazing casting choices (bar the disappointing Brad Pitt choice in IB), but the way he defibrillated John Travolta’s career from Look Who’s Talking hell should leave him forever grateful. From Bruce Willis to Tim Roth, Sam Jackson to Ving Rhames, and even the minuscule but golden performances by Tarantino favs Harvey Keitel and Steve Buscemi, everyone brings their A game to a stellar script. Uma Thurman steals every show imaginable (par for the course) as Mia, and even Tarantino pulls his weight as Jimmy, recipient of an uncomfortable situation. Pulp Fiction breathed life back into film, made it exciting again, and Tarantino proved, much as Leone proved with Once Upon a Time in the West and his Dollars trilogy, that film genres thought tired, low and even cheap could be made into high art. High and bloody, foul mouthed art. Merci, Mr. T. We couldn’t be more grateful. 

Bio-Dome

directed by Jason Bloom

The finest Pauly Shore film in existence is also another fine piece of ridiculous 90s nostalgia, much like PCU or The Jerky Boys, in which the director’s lens captures and preserves another time, begging us to ask the question, “WTF were we thinking?” I’m not sure that we were doing much of that at all, for that was a time of great lapses in judgment, from the wildly unsuitable but always fun indiscretions of the MTV Spring Break week to the chair throwing, clothes tearing chaos of Jerry Springer, those years represented the “Hey, it’s no big deal” sentiment of the Clinton era mixed with the ever shrinking attention spans of Gen X and Y. Hell, If Bio-Dome is one of your favorite movies, I’ve probably lost you already. Stay with me: Bud (Pauley Shore) and Doyle (a mind numbingly stupid, and hilarious, Stephen Baldwin) sneak into an experimental biosphere project to prove to their girlfriends that they care about the environment. I didn’t ask for a judgment on the quality of the plot, here, I just asked you to stay with me. While inside the dome, Bud and Doyle frolic and screw around like idiot kids in a candy store, much to the dismay of the alleged scientists inside. Nobody does the effeminate pixie man like The Weasel, and as far as I’m concerned, Baldwin’s best role beside his McManus in The Usual Suspects is Doyle. Watching Bio-Dome is like setting the way back machine to a time when the livin’ was easy, to quote Sublime. 

04 February 2010

Edge of Darkness

directed by Martin Campbell

Let me be clear: I am not reviewing the newest William Monahan/Martin Campbell schlockfest because it was good. I am reviewing it because it was bad in all the right ways. Mel Gibson, rocking a crazed rage he usually reserves for fans of the Old Testament, is ridiculous as Bahston cop Craven (wtf on the name? Oh, right, it was based on some 1985 tv series) whose daughter gets whacked in one of the stupidest, bloodiest and shittiest attempts at an assassination in corporate history. Oh, did I just give anything away? Hell no, because the script by Monahan is absurd at its best, and fucking absurd at its worst. But Danny Huston is awesome as weirdo boss Jack Bennett, obsessed with death as much as he is with thinly veiled allusions to government secrets. And so is Ray Winstone, proving once again how indispensible he is to any project. Ray Winstone could sit in a chair and tell stories, Gregory Peck style, and if you filmed it for three hours, I would watch it. If Campbell's film was a drink you ordered at the bar, you would initially be pissed that the bartender fixed you such cheap tasting swill, but after a few sips you’d say fuck it and let it get you stupid drunk like cheap drinks should. I have a soft spot in my heart for plastic booze bottle drinks, and I have a special place in my heart for shit-great films that strive for profundity but are so far off that they just leave me baffled. That being said, if I am flipping through the channels one night in the future and this pile is on, I just night might put the remote down and give it another watch (depending on how many beers I’ve had).
Note: What was with that scene when Craven notices the SUV in the parking lot? All I could see was a big SAG license plate frame on that one car. Were you filming pickups outside in the fricking back lot, Martin Campbell? And seriously, the whole plot was so dumb it was insane. If you watched it, let me know and we can talk about it. 

The Proposition

directed by John Hillcoat

Nick Cave’s tale of brother against brother in the land of outlaws is severe and horrific, not to mention amazing. One of the finest modern westerns, Hillcoat finds the inner and outer horror of the human condition. Guy Pearce is outstanding as Charlie Burns, charged with finding his older brother in exchange for his younger brother’s release. Danny Huston is chilling as Arthur Burns, the bad seed living in the hills with a gang of misfits and psychos, and Ray Winstone is the wretched embodiment of a wasted vision, a fresh hell sprawled out over the guise of expansion, of civility. To watch Winstone act is to watch a unique and rare talent, an actor who can bring immeasurable depth to a character that you don't just see, you feel inside yourself like some sort of primitive, universal truth. Emily Watson is phenomenal as Winstone’s wife, an immaculate flower amid the devastation of Man’s core. Rough stuff, indeed, but wondrous. 

The Abyss

directed by James Cameron

I realize that I cannot simply bash Mr. James Cameron’s most recent film without paying proper respect to his earlier achievements, and they are major achievements. Along with the genre defining Terminator and Terminator 2 films, Cameron brought Aliens to the world, widely favored above all other Alien films (my heart belongs to the first one. It had me at hello). Aside from those classics, Cameron also made The Abyss, a great film that featured some of the earliest CGI special effects specimens. Ed Harris plays Bud, commissioned by the Feds to send his deep sea rig on a search and recovery mission involving a nuclear sub. Aided by a group of military commandos led by a great Michael Biehn (I’m going to have to notify your CO, Mr. B. That mustache doesn’t look regulation), plus one almost ex-wife in tow (the divorce isn’t final yet, so says Bud), the crew head out to the edge of a massive trench to find out just what the hell happened. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio is rock solid as Lindsey, Bud’s near ex and brains of the entire outfit, while Ed Harris is his usual outstanding self as the heart of it. James Cameron favorite Biehn finds his inner nutjob and gets loose as Lt. Coffey, SEAL commando who can’t handle the pressure. While this film has its problems, it makes up for it in heart. Yes, James Cameron is a fan of utilizing aliens and non humans to critique our society’s modern, soulless and exploitative ways, and yes, Cameron is also a huge fan of “regular” folks placed at the mercy of a huge and heartless organization, always far away, and always resulting in catastrophe. In the Terminator films it was Skynet, in Avatar it was the corporation in need of unobtanium, and in Aliens it was simply called “The Company”. No matter how you look at it, however, it’s clear that Cameron knows what he wants, a tale with a moral, some awesome action and, if possible, some sort of mecha-contraption fight.
Note: Check out the unofficial director’s cut of Titanic in which Billy Zane uncrates his mecha-loader and fights Ismay after he finds out Rose has been getting it on avec Jack. After the mecha battle, following orders from a burgeoning corporation involved with stupid names for natural resources, a T-1000 spills through a keyhole and stabs Zane while he drinks a celebratory carton of milk.  Meanwhile, a huge, loin-clothed blue creature emerges from the cargo area and spots the litter from the crate, then sheds one acidic tear that eats through the hull. There was no fucking iceberg!